This is a continuation of my series about . When I left off, we were exploring the Temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
From there, we embarked on a bus to the the city of Sihanoukville on coast of Cambodia, about 400 miles away from Siem Reap, with a transfer in Phnom Penh.
It was a tourist-class bus so it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I feared a bus in a third-world country might be. Most of the passengers on the bus were backpackers like us, although the bus did stop several times to pick-up or drop-off locals along the side of the road, most of their luggage packed in rice-sacks.
The scenery on the bus ride was lovely – quaint homes, rice paddies, and families working in the fields – although the dirt roads made for a very bumpy ride.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the bus ride were exactly as bad as I feared. Our “8-9 hour bus-ride” was actually a 14 hour bus ride. And most of the ‘rest stops’ along the route were awful. It seemed to be standard to have bathrooms without running water. Additionally, while most rest stops had one or two ‘Western’ toilets, one of the places we stopped only had the traditional squat toilets , which were not a pleasant experience for me. The vegetarian food options at our stops were almost non-existent, though I did manage to score some plain white rice, dried fruit, and nuts.
After a long and tiring journey, we arrived in Sihanoukville and found that it was not our kind of place. It’s known as the “Sin City” of Cambodia, and it was very common to see older men escorted by very young Cambodian women, tourism offices touting booze cruises, and ‘Happy’ burger and pizza places (which supposedly have off-menu options with marijuana baked in).
Although the beaches were beautiful in Sihanoukville, it wasn’t possible to relax there. Pick-Pockets were rampant, and as the sun was setting the beach filled up with young children selling powerful fireworks and countless beggars, most of whom appeared to be landmine victims.
However, we went to Sihanoukville for two very specific reasons:
Sihanoukville is THE place in Cambodia to get an over-land Visa for Vietnam – we had our Visas in hand within 10 minutes of applying. Any other Vietnamese Consulates in Cambodia will send your passport to Sihanoukville. (Note: if you are flying to Vietnam, you can apply for a visa online, but over-land Visas require a visit to a Consulate).
We had a very important boat to catch – to the relatively undeveloped island of Koh Rong(note: We were surprised when we got back home to find that this little island is on the New York Times’ list ofThe 45 Places to Go in 2012 (see #23). Unlike the summary in the New York Times quoting $600 a night rate, we stayed at a bungalow for $30 dollars per night (yes that’s right, THIRTY))
Mike and I were incredibly excited to spend some time in a back-to-basics treehouse bungalow on this very remote island. It was every bit the back-packers paradise, although I soon learned that I wasn’t as rustic as I thought I was.
My very first clue was the narrow plank we had to walk across, while carrying our luggage, when boarding and exiting the boat. I was so terrified of falling in the water with my backpack strapped to me that one of the boat-men had to give me a gentle push to get me across.
Once on the boat, we enjoyed a peaceful 2-hour ride. The small fishing boat was filled with couples on their way to a romantic get away, cuddling and napping on the boat.
When we arrived in Koh Rong, we carried our luggage about a 1/3 of a mile down the beach, past a tiny village and two other small resorts, before arriving at our resort:The Treehouse Bungalows. This was the only resort on the island with Treehouse cabins, which supposedly have less bugs and spiders than the ground-level cabins.
Our 3-storey Treehouse had a bedroom on the top floor, with a small bathroom below it, connected by narrow stair-cases that felt more like ladders.
The bedroom was simple, yet comfortable.
And the view right outside our Treehouse was unbeatable!
But in order to keep the island so beautiful, a few sacrifices had to be made:
Electricity is only on from 6pm – 10pm at night. (not pleasant when waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom – which required climbing down the ladder with a flashlight)
The shower sprays cold salt water, and the toilet is flushed using a bucket of water (from the barrel).
And do I even need to mention that there was no internet?
These were the most relaxing days of our vacation.
We took walks:
We watched the sun rise and set:
We exchanged greetings with the locals:
And one day, we took an unplanned (and very rugged) hike:
Although I’m not much of a partier, we did enjoy some night-life, including a visit from this gecko, who’s body was about a foot-long.
He wasn’t our only visitor. Another night, I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that the bag of snacks I packed was rustling, and not from the breeze. The center of the bag was moving. As this was well after 10pm, there was no electricity to turn on the lights. Panicked, I woke up Mike and he scared our visitor away.
The next morning, the daylight showed that our friend had taken a nibble out of nearly every snack I packed, including my protein bars and nuts. But he wasn’t all greedy – he left something behind for us too – there were tiny poop pellets inside of my backpack and all over my bathing suit which had been hanging out to dry. This brazen little Ratatouille paid us another visit a day later in broad daylight, but unfortunately for him, I had already tossed out all of his favorite treats.
Luckily for me, the food on the island surpassed my expectations, so I didn’t need all of the snacks I had packed “just in case”. There were actually a good amount of vegetarian options on the island, primarily at the Paradise Bungalows Resort next door, which also had the nicest lounge area.
And each delicious meal on the island was just about $5 per person.
Call me crazy, but after 3 days at this paradise, I was dying to be back on land. I wanted a fresh-water shower – a room that didn’t shake when the wind blew – electricity when I woke up in the middle of the night – and the ability to keep a bag of snacks in my room. Mike wanted to extend our stay a few more days, but instead I asked if we could head to Vietnam.
I think my decision made Mother Nature angry. On our last morning, we woke up to howling wind and a swaying treehouse. Water covered the narrow strip of beach and we had to wade through knee-deep water on our hike to the dock to catch our boat. The boat-men warned us we were in for a rocky ride. In fact, 2 out of the 20 passengers on board had to borrow a bucket, but we made it back unscathed.
I didn’t want to spend another night in Sihanoukville either, so we were soon on the next bus to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and it was Christmas Eve.